Yesterday afternoon Dave Colohan and I went on a tour of Longford’s industrial estates. That wasn’t our intention but I think Dave may have slightly overestimated his knowledge of Longford town’s geography. Eventually we found ourselves outside St Mel’s Brewery, the trademark crozier over the door let us know we were finally in the right spot.
Head Brewer Liam O’Hanlon was there to welcome us, it’s a three man operation but he was running the whole show for the afternoon. They are bottling by hand this afternoon so I’d expect it to be a whole lot busier today! Liam worked for the Carlow Brewing Company for eight years, he left two years ago to set up his own operation. I asked why they made the unusual decision to launch a Brown Ale as part of their core range. He said when they were starting out they were experimenting with a Red Ale and couldn’t make one they were happy with and through a few twerks (not that kind) ended up with a Brown Ale, there was nothing like it on the Irish market so they decided to run with it.
I’m also a fan of St Mel’s Helles Lager so I asked him about that. He told me about a trip to Munich where he fell in love with the style, we both have a love for Augustiner’s Lagerbier Hell. He told me that the soft water in Longford was perfect for brewing this style of beer, which is difficult to get right as there’s ‘nowehere to hide!’. It’s a Helles with a twist though, it’s bottle conditioned with an ale yeast so there’s a touch of fruitiness in the finish.
I asked him about when their beers might be available on draught. He told me that the support from the Longford people has been great and that they will be launching a crowd funding campaign to help with that. Down the line Liam hopes they’ll be able to give something back to the community. I asked about the challenges faced by small breweries and Liam echoed something said by Marcus in Reel Deel, customers want 30 days credit, duty has to be paid up front and you have to wait at least 90 days for a rebate, so cash flow is a tricky one. If they only had to pay half of the duty to start with that would make the whole thing a lot easier. Liam also talked about the differences between an operation the size of St Mel’s and that of the macro brewers. He said that they manipulate the ingredients adding chemicals where necessary to ensure consistency but he’d manipulate his kit to produce a consistent product. He said that the smaller brewers are the ones driving innovation which is good for everyone and that Guinness would never have dreamed of putting out something like West Indies Porter without looking at what’s coming out of smaller breweries.
I gave Liam a bottle of Irish Blond from Reel Deel and he gave us a couple of bottles of St Mel’s Raisin and Oatmeal Stout that’s launching next week. It’s a lovely stout with a rich and creamy mouthfeel. It’s the first of their seasonal specials and it’s perfect for the start of Winter.
There’s also a competition for the best recipe including the stout over on the St Mel’s Facebook page, it’s running until the 6th of December and the winner gets a case of beer. Beer and food, two of my favourite things! Thanks to Liam for having us, and again to Dave for the photography. Sláinte!